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CALM PHILOSOPHIC DISCUSSIONS
Here I end what I may call my log, happily saved from the wreck, andI resume my narrative as before.
What happened when the raft was dashed upon the rocks is more than Ican tell. I felt myself hurled into the waves; and if I escaped fromdeath, and if my body was not torn over the sharp edges of the rocks,it was because the powerful arm of Hans came to my rescue.
The brave Icelander carried me out of the reach of the waves, over aburning sand where I found myself by the side of my uncle.
Then he returned to the rocks, against which the furious waves werebeating, to save what he could. I was unable to speak. I wasshattered with fatigue and excitement; I wanted a whole hour torecover even a little.
But a deluge of rain was still falling, though with that violencewhich generally denotes the near cessation of a storm. A fewoverhanging rocks afforded us some shelter from the storm. Hansprepared some food, which I could not touch; and each of us,exhausted with three sleepless nights, fell into a broken and painfulsleep.
The next day the weather was splendid. The sky and the sea had sunkinto sudden repose. Every trace of the awful storm had disappeared.The exhilarating voice of the Professor fell upon my ears as I awoke;he was ominously cheerful.
"Well, my boy," he cried, "have you slept well?"
Would not any one have thought that we were still in our cheerfullittle house on the Königstrasse and that I was only just coming downto breakfast, and that I was to be married to Gräuben that day?
Alas! if the tempest had but sent the raft a little more east, weshould have passed under Germany, under my beloved town of Hamburg,under the very street where dwelt all that I loved most in the world.Then only forty leagues would have separated us! But they were fortyleagues perpendicular of solid granite wall, and in reality we were athousand leagues asunder!
All these painful reflections rapidly crossed my mind before I couldanswer my uncle's question.
"Well, now," he repeated, "won't you tell me how you have slept?"
"Oh, very well," I said. "I am only a little knocked up, but I shallsoon be better."
"Oh," says my uncle, "that's nothing to signify. You are only alittle bit tired."
"But you, uncle, you seem in very good spirits this morning."
"Delighted, my boy, delighted. We have got there."
"To our journey's end?"
"No; but we have got to the end of that endless sea. Now we shall goby land, and really begin to go down! down! down!"
"But, my dear uncle, do let me ask you one question."
"Of course, Axel."
"How about returning?"
"Returning? Why, you are talking about the return before the arrival."
"No, I only want to know how that is to be managed."
"In the simplest way possible. When we have reached the centre of theglobe, either we shall find some new way to get back, or we shallcome back like decent folks the way we came. I feel pleased at thethought that it is sure not to be shut against us."
"But then we shall have to refit the raft."
"Then, as to provisions, have we enough to last?"
"Yes; to be sure we have. Hans is a clever fellow, and I am sure hemust have saved a large part of our cargo. But still let us go andmake sure."
We left this grotto which lay open to every wind. At the same time Icherished a trembling hope which was a fear as well. It seemed to meimpossible that the terrible wreck of the raft should not havedestroyed everything on board. On my arrival on the shore I foundHans surrounded by an assemblage of articles all arranged in goodorder. My uncle shook hands with him with a lively gratitude. Thisman, with almost superhuman devotion, had been at work all the whilethat we were asleep, and had saved the most precious of the articlesat the risk of his life.
Not that we had suffered no losses. For instance, our firearms; butwe might do without them. Our stock of powder had remained uninjuredafter having risked blowing up during the storm.
"Well," cried the Professor, "as we have no guns we cannot hunt,that's all."
"Yes, but how about the instruments?"
"Here is the aneroid, the most useful of all, and for which I wouldhave given all the others. By means of it I can calculate the depthand know when we have reached the centre; without it we might verylikely go beyond, and come out at the antipodes!"
Such high spirits as these were rather too strong.
"But where is the compass? I asked.
"Here it is, upon this rock, in perfect condition, as well as thethermometers and the chronometer. The hunter is a splendid fellow."
There was no denying it. We had all our instruments. As for tools andappliances, there they all lay on the ground - ladders, ropes, picks,spades, etc.
Still there was the question of provisions to be settled, and I asked- "How are we off for provisions?"
The boxes containing these were in a line upon the shore, in aperfect state of preservation; for the most part the sea had sparedthem, and what with biscuits, salt meat, spirits, and salt fish, wemight reckon on four months' supply.
"Four months!" cried the Professor. "We have time to go and toreturn; and with what is left I will give a grand dinner to myfriends at the Johannæum."
I ought by this time to have been quite accustomed to my uncle'sways; yet there was always something fresh about him to astonish me.
"Now," said he, "we will replenish our supply of water with the rainwhich the storm has left in all these granite basins; therefore weshall have no reason to fear anything from thirst. As for the raft, Iwill recommend Hans to do his best to repair it, although I don'texpect it will be of any further use to us."
"How so?" I cried.
"An idea of my own, my lad. I don't think we shall come out by theway that we went in."
I stared at the Professor with a good deal of mistrust. I asked, washe not touched in the brain? And yet there was method in his madness.
"And now let us go to breakfast," said he.
I followed him to a headland, after he had given his instructions tothe hunter. There preserved meat, biscuit, and tea made us anexcellent meal, one of the best I ever remember. Hunger, the freshair, the calm quiet weather, after the commotions we had gonethrough, all contributed to give me a good appetite.
Whilst breakfasting I took the opportunity to put to my uncle thequestion where we were now.
"That seems to me," I said, "rather difficult to make out."
"Yes, it is difficult," he said, "to calculate exactly; perhaps evenimpossible, since during these three stormy days I have been unableto keep any account of the rate or direction of the raft; but stillwe may get an approximation."
"The last observation," I remarked, "was made on the island, when thegeyser was -"
"You mean Axel Island. Don't decline the honour of having given yourname to the first island ever discovered in the central parts of theglobe."
"Well," said I, "let it be Axel Island. Then we had cleared twohundred and seventy leagues of sea, and we were six hundred leaguesfrom Iceland."
"Very well," answered my uncle; "let us start from that point andcount four days' storm, during which our rate cannot have been lessthan eighty leagues in the twenty-four hours."
"That is right; and this would make three hundred leagues more."
"Yes, and the Liedenbrock sea would be six hundred leagues from shoreto shore. Surely, Axel, it may vie in size with the Mediterraneanitself."
"Especially," I replied, "if it happens that we have only crossed itin its narrowest part. And it is a curious circumstance," I added,"that if my computations are right, and we are nine hundred leaguesfrom Rejkiavik, we have now the Mediterranean above our head."
"That is a good long way, my friend. But whether we are under Turkeyor the Atlantic depends very much upon the question in what directionwe have been moving. Perhaps we have deviated."
"No, I think not. Our course has been the same all along, and Ibelieve this shore is south-east of Port Grauben."
"Well," replied my uncle, "we may easily ascertain this by consultingthe compass. Let us go and see what it says."
The Professor moved towards the rock upon which Hans had laid downthe instruments. He was gay and full of spirits; he rubbed his hands,he studied his attitudes. I followed him, curious to know if I wasright in my estimate. As soon as we had arrived at the rock my uncletook the compass, laid it horizontally, and questioned the needle,which, after a few oscillations, presently assumed a fixed position.My uncle looked, and looked, and looked again. He rubbed his eyes,and then turned to me thunderstruck with some unexpected discovery.
"What is the matter?" I asked.
He motioned to me to look. An exclamation of astonishment burst fromme. The north pole of the needle was turned to what we supposed to bethe south. It pointed to the shore instead of to the open sea! Ishook the box, examined it again, it was in perfect condition. Inwhatever position I placed the box the needle pertinaciously returnedto this unexpected quarter. Therefore there seemed no reason to doubtthat during the storm there had been a sudden change of windunperceived by us, which had brought our raft back to the shore whichwe thought we had left so long a distance behind us.
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